Eat, pray, drink – Easter traditions
Easter is the most important religious holiday in Georgia. There are traditions and customs without which Easter could not be celebrated by any Georgian family (including even the less religious).
Heavy and moist – this is how real paskha should be.
On social networks, pages bearing the question ‘Where to buy good paskha?’ are abuzz with panic a week before Easter (of which the same question is usually found at the bottom of many other questions and is written with an exclamation mark).
The requirements are tough. Cakes which are too dry, not heavy enough, has a bad flavour or do not have enough raisins simply do not make the cut.
A bakery that has not met expectations and has made bad Easter cakes will be in a truly unfavourable position. Its reputation would be tarnished, even if it begged and pleaded for an entire year. However, being victorious in the Best Paskha Nomination would equal to that of a pastry Oscar for a bakery.
So, what does a good paskha actually looks like, and how could you distinguish it from a bad one by a single glance? If it is light and airy like a bun, then immediately apologize to the seller and leave. Even small children in Georgia know that real paskha should be heavy and damp, yellowish-orange and under no circumstances be bright white! However, the appearance is only half the battle won.
Paskha should have enough fat, moderate sweetness and most importantly a very unique flavour. The flavours of nutmeg, saffron, cloves, cinnamon and other spices are delicately mixed with each other in a good paskha. Everything depends on the skills of the baker. Then, why so much hysteria, you ask? Can’t you just go and bake paskha at home?
Sure you can. Moreover, nothing is better than home-baked cakes. However, making it is not for the faint of heart – you will need a few days vacation, hard work, skill and good nerves. If you have all of these, you can bake Easter cakes. But another reason you should refrain from baking paskha at home, is the cost involved in making them. To buy it in a store is much cheaper.
Grass grown on cotton wool
Grass is another essential attribute to the Georgian Easter table – jejili – newly grown grass, which is a symbol of new life and renewal.
It is much easier to grow grass at home than to make paskha.
You should prepare in advance to have freshly grown grass for Easter. Wheat seeds should be planted on Palm Sunday, two weeks before Easter.
For jejili, any crockery of any shape and size can be used. More often, simple plates are used. You should put a 4-5 centimetre thick cotton wool layer on a plate, moisten it with warm water and put a 1 centimetre thick wheat seed layer over it. The plate should be put in a warm and bright place. Don’t forget to water it in the morning and evening so as not to let the cotton wool dry out.
That’s all. Fresh green wheat grass will grow in a week in your home, after which Easter eggs can be put in the grass and placed on a table.
Easter eggs Georgian style
Easter eggs are dyed in red colouring on Good Friday. The Easter eggs, as a rule, are dyed with endro (Madder plant roots) in Georgia. Endro is sold everywhere during the Passover week – it’s even possible that someone will come to your door and offer to sell you endro.
Endro roots are thoroughly washed and then crushed or finely chopped (You can buy endro in powder form, though some people are rather suspicious of it). Then, the roots are placed in a pot with water, several onion peels and salt, and simmered for 20 minutes.
Then it should be removed from the heat and allowed to cool. Only after this, should the eggs be placed inside.
Do not put more than 20 eggs in if you are using a big pot, as the eggs will break. Boil the eggs on medium heat for 20-25 minutes, then carefully take the eggs out, let them cool down a little bit and place them in cold water so that the shell can be easily removed later.
One more thing to keep in mind – do not boil the eggs in your favourite pot – it will get stained. Good housewives usually keep a separate pot for this tradition.
Older people remember that during Soviet times, school teachers were checking children’s hands in schools and say ‘ugh’ if there was any trace of red dye on a child’s’ hands – it was a clear sign that the Ester eggs were dyed at home.
The main tradition – visiting cemeteries
On the second day of Easter – on Monday, it is tradition in Georgia to visit the cemetery, remember the deceased, as well as roll the red Easter eggs on a grave. Easter cakes, eggs and wine are necessary for visiting a gravesite. There are those who lay tables with traditional Georgian dishes and drinks at the gravesite, and even invite guests there.
On the eve of Easter, when believers have returned home in the morning after attending an all night vigil in the church, there are no charges for the metro. The rides on public transport going to and from cemeteries are also free of charge the next day.
Tbilisi is not crowded
There are no traffic jams on Easter Sunday and only a few pedestrians walking here and there in the streets. It’s a usual thing, because, as a rule, the graves of the ancestors and relatives are out of town on the outskirts, so people leave the city en masse for Easter.
In this regard, you will see one or two posts on Facebook on Easter, in which people with their noses held high in the air rejoice: “Finally, all the villagers have left and only the real citizens remain for a few days in Tbilisi.” Joking on this subject has also become a tradition like the Easter cakes and the red Easter eggs.